Passengers on Southwest Airlines experienced some turbulence Sunday as the airline canceled more than 1,000 flights nationwide, including nearly 150 flights into or out of Denver, according to the flight-tracking website Flight Aware.
Southwest blamed the mass cancellations on “air traffic control issues and disruptive weather,” in a Facebook post Saturday night. The company said it expected to see a high volume of canceled flights throughout the weekend as it works to get flights back on track.
Southwest’s representatives did not answer questions Sunday about whether its recent COVID-19 vaccine mandate affected the cancellations, but said in a statement that the airline’s problems started in Florida.
“We experienced weather challenges in our Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, challenges that were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region, triggering delays and prompting significant cancellations for us beginning Friday evening,” the statement said. “…With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Sunday that it experienced “limited staffing” at an air traffic control center in Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday.
“Flight delays and cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday afternoon due to widespread severe weather, military training, and limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center,” spokesman Steve Kulm said. “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.”
He did not immediately answer additional questions about what caused the limited staffing in Jacksonville on Friday.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the union for Southwest’s pilots, said Saturday that none of its members were participating in a strike or other labor action.
“Our pilots will continue to overcome SWA management’s poor planning, as well as any external operational challenges, and remain the most productive pilots in the world,” the union said in the statement.
Southwest canceled 1,006 flights across the country on Sunday and 808 on Saturday, according to Flight Aware, including 145 through Denver on Sunday and 102 on Saturday.
Louie Means woke up to a 4 a.m. text from Southwest informing him that he and his wife’s 11 a.m. flight from Destin, Fla., to Houston was canceled. After calling the airline’s customer service and hearing that the estimated wait time to talk to a representative exceeded two hours, he decided to just extend his rental car and drive the nine hours back to Houston.
“I feel lucky though, some of these people, in Denver, they’re stranded,” Means said on the phone from the road Sunday. “At least we’re getting to go home.”
As he and his wife drove, Means spent almost six hours on hold with Southwest’s customer service, he said.
“We finally got tired of waiting,” he said. “It said, ‘We’re sorry for the inconvenience, we appreciate your business’ — and I’m thinking, ‘Really?’”